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Siri awakened me Monday morning at 3:14 to a groggy beginning of an anticipated adventure.
The coming series of new experiences and discoveries was inaugurated by the discovery that we had no water, so there would be no shower. Oh well, I thought, to hike to the top of the Caribbean’s highest peak, I should think that body odor will likely be my lot for the next five days anyway.

Pico Duarte Trip - 1With my backpack stuffed and ready, I rendezvoused with my fellow adventurers at school and prepared for our nighttime bus ride to the Dominican Republic’s famous peak. In the restroom just before we left I noticed a rather large wild-eyed tree frog eyeing me from the opposite wall—just before he leaped on me and made me scream like a girl.

15 hours later I was standing alone, drenched, muddied and exhausted in a cold puddle in the fog and rain wondering if I’d make it to the day’s destination before it was night, and if the symptoms I was experiencing made me a candidate for exposure. Thinking I just had to be close, I was dismayed to be contradicted by the sign that indicated 4.7 km to go. Fatigue, blisters, and the grace of God were my three companions as I soldiered on, reproaching myself that I had let a little miscommunication separate me from the group behind me and the group already there.

Pico Duarte Trip - 3Pico Duarte Trip - 2When at last I spied lights in the deepening dusk, I knew the joy of a weary traveler finding a port in the storm. My relief was altered a bit by the discovery that the entire contents of my backpack were sodden and dripping. There seemed to be no place to hang anything to dry, so a few selected garments and sleeping gear were hung in the damp communal area and some by the fire. I found them later as wet as ever under mounds of soaked clothing placed over my items by later arrivals. I slept a little, despite the cold, the hard floor and the occasional braying of the pack-mules.

On the following day (Tuesday), with everyone rested, we were eager to ascend the remaining 500 meters and 5 km to the summit. On many other days I suppose one could have seen a spectacular panorama seated by that bust of Juan Pablo Duarte. But we could see little more than he could, perched on an island of rock that appeared to float in a sea of cloud. Yet, undaunted we returned to La Compartición where the sun had been shining and our clothes were left drying. It was raining when we got back and it kept on falling into the late afternoon.

Pico Duarte Trip - 7 Pico Duarte Trip - 8Having already traversed 28km, my feet were angry and not eager to pack up on Day 3 (Wednesday) and hike a rugged trail for 18.5 more km to Valle del Tertero. There we found a quiet wide valley, the forecasted rain held off and we looked forward to a rest-day for Day 4 (Thursday).
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Day 5 (Friday) and our weary, battered feet and our rented bus brought us back to Jarabacoa with a renewed sense of it’s value and importance.

And as I reflect now on the experience of these five days, I wonder at the impulse we have to climb mountains. What is it that motivates us to persecute ourselves in this way? What makes a man give up his comfort and buffet himself for nothing more than the glory of enduring the struggle, the joy of hard-forged relationships, breathtaking scenes and pulsating rainbows? Can encouraging and helpful staff and students carrying each others’ loads (literally) somehow make it worth it? Can the laughter of a tight-knit group leaping from rocks in the sun into a cold river balance it out? If not, perhaps, a crystal clear view of the Milky Way galaxy stretched from horizon to horizon across the center of a serenely beautiful valley, interrupted only by streaking meteors, answered by choruses of gleeful screams and shouts of praise?
Pico Duarte Trip - 14Pico Duarte Trip - 17Would it be considered worth it all if some of those young students overcame fears with courage? What if they showed unexpected patience, acceptance and kindness to one another? What if some responded to the God who made all this wonder by the words of His mouth and trusted his Son? Isn’t life itself a series of challenging difficulties? Who better to guide us up this mountain and take us to the summit?

Pico Duarte Trip - 12

What a grand time we had!

freestuffIncredulous people often ask opponents of what is variously being called “Obamacare” and the “Affordable Care Act” why anyone could possibly be opposed to providing healthcare for those who need it and cannot afford it? Their impression is that to oppose makes one comparable to Stalin, Hitler, or Idi Amin. Such a one obviously despises puppies, unicorns, rainbows, bacon, butter and love.

Something should be done to address the extreme high cost of obtaining healthcare. It’s just that ACA in it’s present form, is not it.

What, after all, may be observed in all this discourse that would lead one to believe that a healthcare system most of us can’t afford can be made affordable by simply requiring the same people who couldn’t afford healthcare insurance and services in the first place to pay for them anyway? Add to that the costs of a burgeoning federal bureaucratic, tax-supported machine that will oversee. What in this scenario actually lowers the cost of healthcare services? “The rich”, you say? If so, I hope you mean the top 5% who own most of the country. Because the rest of us, in what we used to call “the middle class”, fare little better, if at all, than the ones in the lowest income bracket. We are simply playing a “shell game” whereby we will fund big government and profitable insurance companies to keep paying for healthcare that still costs too much.

Where is it written that in order to address this issue we must socialize medicine and in order to do that we must strengthen and empower our already bloated, intrusive, and inefficient federal government with even more power to reach deeper into our pockets and into our privacy?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what it ain’t! It seems to me that what we have here is an oligarchy running a monopoly. There is not enough free-enterprise in this system.

If I go to get my brakes fixed, I will ask in advance, what the parts and services will cost before I approve services. I have choices. But when I seek to obtain medical care I don’t typically have that option. I will have no idea what this is gonna cost, and whatever they tell me it is, after the fact, I’m just gonna have to pay it. It won’t matter how ridiculously expensive it is likely to be.

Call me a cynic, but I believe wherever you see the flow of large amounts of cash, you will see selfishness, greed, and corruption. Our founders knew this about us and separated and balanced the powers of government to account for it. It seems to take forever to get a consensus and move forward with much of what we intend, but it’s due to the necessary checks-and-balances of our unique and brilliant system of government.

If we have built into our governing all this accountability, what has made us think that we can cut loose an enormous percentage of the populace with entitlement privilege paid for by others and not require of them at least an accountability to the whole? You know, a contribution and participation in their own well-being? Why will no one speak of personal responsibility? Does it really seem fair to you that a healthy non-smoking working 27-year-old should pay more for his healthcare (every month whether he needs it or not) as an unemployed 450 lb. sedentary smoker with terrible nutritional habits (who, in fact, will likely pay nothing)? It is one thing for a citizen to open his heart to freely help his neighbor who cannot help himself, it is quite another to institutionalize with government a class of people who will always receive and a class who will always be required to give. Such things ruin men. We can raise the debt ceiling high enough to bury us forever, but no amount of money we borrow from our great-grandchildren can fix this simply because we “meant well.” Able-bodied people must be a part of the solution of helping those who simply can’t help themselves. We have to distinguish the difference!

There will never be a true solution to these complicated problems that does not include personal, individual, responsibility and accountability. True, the rich should pay “their fair share” and the medical industry can be held accountable, but the free recipients can also do their part in what Habitat for Humanity calls “sweat equity.” Everything we get should cost us something. There is no “free lunch.” Somebody has to pay for everything. Being a part of effecting one’s own well-being builds individuals and society.